Stories about Food Culture in European families
“The most important ingredient in every dish is your love and soul”
BY ELENA KLAAS / ILLUSTRATIONS BY LISA HINGERL
There is certainly no lack of great food in Amsterdam. Four months into living in the Dutch capital, I am still overwhelmed by the abundance of stylish cafés and beautiful restaurants to dine in that seem to be popping up at every corner of the city. And yet, even after five years of living outside of Germany, I still miss eating certain dishes and products that I can’t find in the Netherlands. Even more so when I do manage to get my hands on them; it simply does not taste the same without the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps on a summer day. There is something inherently comforting about eating your all-time favourite dish in your home country, as if it was sprinkled not only with salt and pepper, but also with the feeling of being back home.
With this idea in mind, I set out to find young people from different parts of Europe living in the Netherlands to ask them about their most beloved regional dish and how they view the Dutch food culture as compared to their own.
Linn-Andrea Vik (24), Hønefoss, Norway
“In our family, we make a big thing out of food. Usually, the whole family cooks together - apart from my dad who watches sports; but everyone else helps, including my brothers-in-law. We eat a lot and often, so you could definitely say that we like food a lot!”
...on the Dutch food culture: "I do not think I have experienced the real Dutch food culture yet, because there are so many different food options in Amsterdam. I do think Dutch food is quite similar to Norwegian food in terms of boring flavours - we are not really ‘spicy’ people. My only impression of Dutch food culture so far is that it has a lot of fried food, something I am a bit sceptical about."
“My favorite dish would be Kjøttkaker: Norwegian meatballs or meat-cakes if translated properly. It is my favourite dish that my grandmother used to make for me when I came home from school. She made a lot of food, but this was my absolute favourite.”
Carles de Setó (24), Barcelona, Catalonia
“My family’s food culture is very festive, especially when it comes to dinner. We make sure that we all sit around the table together to have a proper meal. I know some families where everyone prepares their own food and eats it on the couch. That would never be allowed in our home.”
...on the Dutch food culture: "I don’t think Dutch food culture is very special - I would say it’s actually one of my least favourite cuisines. Catalonia and its Mediterranean cuisine offer a high variety of quality meals that the Netherlands does not seem to offer. In Italy, you have amazing pasta and in the Nordic countries there is great fish. Here in the Netherlands, the one thing they are really good at is making fries."
“My favourite dish is Arros caldos amb llamantol - a soupy rice with lobster. I especially enjoy the one at the Can Majó restaurant at the beach in Barcelona. You cannot find anything better! Naturally, it is also very expensive so I only eat it on special occasions, for example when I leave the country or a birthday.”
Daria Statkevich (25), Moscow, Russia
“The Russian food culture is quite diverse and our attitude to food is more about celebration than necessity. For example, we usually eat two or three courses: soup, a main dish, and something sweet. The dishes itself might be simple, but always tasty and served nicely. During the weekdays, we do not cook a lot, but my family always cooks something special on the weekend when we’re together. My grandfather once told me that the most important ingredient in every dish is your love and soul. I am sure my grandfather's secret is one of the main characteristics of Russian food culture.”
...on the Dutch food culture: "When I first came to Amsterdam, the first thing I noticed about the food culture is that bread is part of almost every meal - especially from a student’s perspective. I quickly learnt how to make tostis – two toasted slices of bread with different ingredients like cheese, meat, or even chocolate sprinkles in-between. The combination of spending little effort and time, and creating a tasty meal is very appealing to me."
“One of my favourite meals from home is a rather simple dish: buckwheat grains with beetroot and vegetables. I had just started studying in Amsterdam and I had been unsuccessfully searching buckwheat grains at supermarkets, when I realised that they must be a very typical ingredients of Russian cuisine. The dish reminds me of my student life in Moscow."
"Another food from home that I always eat immediately after I get home is pancakes. When I used to live in Moscow with my parents, this was our usual Sunday breakfast. A lot of cuisines have their traditional pancakes, very delicious and unique, but the pancakes that my mother cooks are the absolute best!”
Angela Bonnano (22), Sicily, Italy
“Everyone knows that Italy is about two things: food and good weather! Food is not just about the process of eating, but also a celebration of being together. It is, for example, very common to invite many people like relatives and friends over to enjoy the food together. We also talk a lot about food and cooking, make suggestions about how to improve and share new recipes. It is a big deal.”
...on the Dutch food culture: "One of the things I’ve noticed is the way people eat their lunch in the Netherlands: during lunchtime, people just eat their lunch quickly and return to work immediately afterwards. In Sicily, the lifestyle is more relaxed and most people go back home for lunch. At home they have a proper meal, including a main dish, sometimes a second dish, and fruit for dessert. It seems that people in the Netherlands see food more as some kind of physiological need, and not as a celebration as in Italy."
“Well, as an Italian, I have to say my absolute favourite food is pizza. I would eat it everyday if I could. The best one is a simple margherita with good tomatoes, proper mozzarella and, of course, fresh basil. With pizza, it all depends on the raw ingredients: if the tomatoes or any of the other ingredients are not fresh, the taste will be completely different."
"A second thing I will add here is ricotta, a fresh cheese. Even in Milan, where I was studying, it was difficult to find the one that I like so much. Food in the south is more often homemade, so my grandmother used to make her own ricotta. When I go home now, my parents always buy some ricotta for me, and the first thing I do is sit down and just eat it with a spoon!"
ELENA KLAAS is crazy about food and writing - the perfect combo for a first contribution to this AWE issue. She returned to the Netherlands for a second serving of Dutch education and while she’s very fond of the tiny country, she cannot complain enough about how bad Dutch bread is.